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Yeohlee Teng Discusses Changing Garment Center

Designer Yeohlee Teng and architect Calvin Tsao discussed the evolution of the Garment Center and the possibility of a buy-local initiative.

NEW YORK — Designer Yeohlee Teng and architect Calvin Tsao discussed the evolution of the Garment Center and saving the jobs of behind-the-scenes craftspeople during an event at the nonprofit Val Alen Institute here.

They also spoke about encouraging a buy-local consumer initiative.

The talk, moderated by institute executive director Adi Shamir, included feedback from architects and urban planners in the audience who aired concerns about whether the city’s proposed rezoning of the Garment Center might diminish the number of jobs for seamstresses, patternmakers and others who are integral to the design process.

City officials have suggested centralizing manufacturing in a 300,000-square-foot building at West 38th Street and Eighth Avenue. There is about 850,000 square feet in the Garment Center occupied by apparel manufacturers.

Teng said “a proper study” is needed to determine how that setup would affect the people who work in the industry.

“It seems like marginalization to me,” Tsao said. “We’re not animals in a zoo that just come out to perform from 1 to 3.”

When Teng referred to the waning presence of the garment industry, an audience member cited Manhattan’s flower market, which now consists of a block or so on Sixth Avenue “with a couple of little edges,” as another shrinking area despite its “daily wholesale and retail life.”

In addition, Tsao aired his concerns about the city’s architectural community. “Today may be great, but down the road we could be kicked out on the street, and pretty soon we would be out in Brooklyn and then Pittsburgh,” he said.

Attendees also discussed the need to sustain the skilled craftspeople, as one audience member explained, “It’s definitely a thriving part of our society.”

“And the middle class,” Teng added.

Highlighting the creative process might be one way to encourage shoppers to buy locally made items, participants said. Several pointed to the success of famed California chef Alice Waters, who has long championed using locally grown food and fresh ingredients, and suggested American designers adopt a similar strategy.